FOR HENRY RICHARDSON READ, MY FATHER WHO DIED OF ALZHEIMERS A FEW YEARS AGO:
If you awoke from this private prison and asked me one morning, Who Am I?, I would reply:
You believe life is a series of trials and tribulations, set precariously upon a springboard of joy and agony, and that the basic tenants of morality and spirituality are one and the same, and that they are rooted in being good to everyone who enters your sphere. You respect every person equally, give each you encounter a shot at your trust, a look at your smile, a firm shake of your hand, eye contact. You believe that the time your heart beats on this planet is, each and every day, heaven, and then you die. You believe it is how people left behind remember you that is most important.
You wouldn’t like all the adulation. You’d humbly smile and stare at your shoes, or at your self- manicured fingers and you’d squint your eyes, and when you met our faces, you’d laugh; and your whole face laughs when you laugh. It is a hearty laugh, and though you are no longer the expert of words, your laugh and its meaning, is our strongest medication now. It reminds of the corny songs in your lengthy repertoire, Smile and The World Smiles With You…or Every Day’s a Holiday with Me…or…(referring your oldest daughter with can curlers in her hair) Here She Comes!…Miss America!…or just plain old When I was a Little Bitty Baby…these were the songs with which you woke us, dressed in full tie and suit, shoes with military polishing, briefcase in hand, bakelite frame glasses with masking tape at the broken arm joint of the frame, and tissue strips masking the earlier blood of an old fashioned, self administered, morning shave, and this all at the crack of dawn of every week day of our childhood.
Of course we slept for another hour after you were gone, you, off to your office in South Atlanta’s most dangerous neighborhood, and from where you would not return until well past dusk, briefcase still in hand. Mom commented that all those years you brought it home every night, and that you never, ever, ever opened it. But you read the paper from cover to cover, and usually a half a book (mostly non fiction, though you began to enjoyed early English poetry immensely as you were descending. And the next morning, your twangy serenade would begin again.
You once told me that any man who couldn’t feed his family well, make it big for that matter, in the Fifties, was inept. There was more opportunity than talent, more land that developer, less to sell than people to buy it. It was the land of plenty. You were afraid it wouldn’t be like that for your children. I think you’d hate to see what two-bit discouragements plague us now, but like Grace, you’d be glad we’ve finally found the sense to recycle and clamp down on the spending.
You grew up in Nashville, Atlanta, and to some degree, on the farm owned by your mother’s father, Henry Richardson (AKA, The River Rat). Your parent’s divorce separated not only your parents residences but your relationship with your older brother, and you two did not speak after you reached your twenties which saddened your children and your mother, and so you brought his children into your fold, because they were good and loving people. Your father remarried Millie, who you loved and cared for until her death in the mid nineties. Your graciousness caused your Mother and step-mother, to become friends. You treated your mother-in law the same, yet there were times when she did not deserve it. That is just the way you are, in personal or business matters.
You had a relatively good childhood, though mostly short of money and heavy on motherly love and protection, obligations, staring practicality in the face, and relied partially on a distinctly distant but fun-loving father. You took good care of your mother and father in their later years, and made friends easily Your best childhood friend was Walter Boomershine. Your first cousin, Donald R. Read, Jr., and your early twenties friends, who would remain dedicated for life. They include Pat Storey, Daniel Gates, Dan Plaster, Hugh Adcocks, and Mom’s uncle, Ernie Vandiver, and their wives.
However, you stayed close with your father’s father, and your father and uncle, and joined, for a short time, the Family Business until you decided to strike out on your own. This was your first and most important business decision.
After serving in Japan during the Korean war as a First Lieutenant in the Marines, marrying Mom, and finishing a civil engineering degree at Georgia Tech, you settled in Colonial Homes Apartments on Peachtree with you new wife and child, Lee Berthine. Soon three more children came, Henry, Jr. (also born on January 2), Charlie, and Molly. You built a house on a high creek and began a battle with water that lasts to this day, although, you truly belong in this beautiful house on Canter Road. You are it’s primary memory.
You and Hugh Adcocks and Dan Gates got a lot on Lake Rabun, built a boathouse and eventually, he built a house there. Your wife and children went to Rabun almost every weekend, and your penchant for hard manual labor persisted throughout your thirties, forties and fifties.
Later, there were friends from the neighborhood, from your business, from your wife’s family, and because of your overall generous and friendly manner, and all of these many individuals are proud, to this day, that they were cherished by you. It is to them, The Smiths, The Malones, The Lipschutzes, The Coopers, The Doughertys, The Oxfords, The Beasleys, The Vandivers, The Sisks, The Maslias, The Hundleys, The Mueller’s, The Hutchisons, The Byrds, The Fines, The Davises, The Sims, The Bransons, Sara Mitchell and her children, Mary Massey, Lester Vickerson, The Weatherlys, and so many others who should be named herein, and to whom we dedicate this memorial.
You’d be more than satiated in knowing your only grandson has turned out so well, would be kind and gentle and powerful, all in one, just like you are, that all of your nieces had found their own, and were living life as you’d have them, with a little gamble in their souls, and similarly, with much compassion in their hearts, and good sense in their brains.
You’d like it that I finally in my life feel like a true artist. You’d like it that Molly wrote and published a book, that she has raised such a fine boy. You’d be prideful that Henry and Andy carry your business legacy proudly, wisely, and treat people with the same respect as their fathers did, and that Henry is finally getting rid of that awful second wife. You’d like it that Lee found Donnie, that she’s as bossy as ever and taking over, and that Mom is still banging her head against the futility of Atlanta politics and zoning, that she’s in a book club, that she plays bridge on rare occasions still, that she is loved still by so many friends. You’d like it that she took on your finances, played the stock market like a pro, long before you realized she’d done so.
You’d like how incredibly courageous and resilient she still is. You’d like it that she’s gathered us all under her wings and reminds us of how you filled us with love and self respect.
There are still things you recognize, little things here and there, and there are still base jokes, and funny faces, and you still sing melodically and with that slight country lilt, though leaning towards tone deafness along with your color blindness. There’ are still those knee jerk reactions that for some reason send us all to the floor with laughter. You recognize us, and we’re, for the moment, rewarded with the glory of you. We do not regret a moment you want to stay, but we acknowledge that know you would like to move on soon. It is very hard to say goodbye, but yet we realize we have done so in many ways already. It is confusing. It is sad. It is joyous. It’s monstrous. It’s unfair. It’s life.
You favored a lot of things, had many interests, were a jack-of-all-trades, but more than all, you adore your wife. She is your only adoration. Aidan put it so well in her Hissing of Summer Lawns that I’ll skip that part until later, only to say my father has a beautiful mirror that is his wife, and it is she who he will always adore. Even now that light is there when you gaze her, you pat her and garble ‘good ole’ girl’. She says it is you that she cannot do without, but it is a mirror, that binds your gaze more than your children could ever muster in you, nor could your parents or other true friends along your way, and it is for you, the only eternal. It is she though, through this mirror of something so much greater than contentment, of this, that we children all deem a prize if to catch only a glimpse of it. It is she that you adore, and her to whom you attribute your goodness, and there is no one that trump her. She is your religion.
And we, your children, have learned that this is a good thing. That it just is. Because, though we revere you, we adore her, as well, but, from afar, for she does not take well to adoration from anyone but her Henry.
I believe you suffered from early onset of Alzheimer’s. The reason it took us, the doctors —anyone — so long to ascertain the diagnosis, was certainly due to your friendly, giving and humorous demeanor. You are a people person like no other, an any-man’s man. Any glimmers of your mind failing were well hidden behind the invisible force of your goodwill. Like your basic human functions, your emotional ones continue in full force, even as the logical thought patterns began to elude you.
Goodness in a raw form, still shows like a bright light even in these late, dark days. It is so undeniable that often still, I believe you comprehend the most complex emotions, feel the highest substances of joy, remember, without knowing it, the basic element of human goodness that you represent to all who knew you before and who still love you.
You are Henry Read. Your children are filled with gratitude, for you are an awesome man who speaks powerful words, acts with his heart and mind equally, who hears our needs and fulfills them before we’ve had time to ask, and we are proud to carry your name.
DEFINITIONS by Charlie Read
There are certain words embedded in my memory, that arise each time I think about Papa. Not because they are euphemisms for what one should remember in a father, or expect, or desire, but because when I learned them scholastically, and later in the cruel and treacherous school of life, each of them applied so aptly to my tiny bit of human experience under his wing. There were no other examples. The words became, in light of his lack of spiritual commitment to organized religion, my mantra. These words describe him in his own light, which was not a perfect puritan white, nor a tainted yellow, but a huge aura with shades as varied as his large latitude of acceptance of others.
This one was the hardest to learn or understand, and it took days to wrap my mind around it. How could one built up with so much positive reinforcement, one never to know hunger, or wanting, or physical agony, or derision, comprehend humility? It was my habit to watch him in action, at home, at work, on the road, deal with all walks of life, in concert. To respect and revere the guy that drove his forklift as much as he respected the woman who watched his children when they were gone, and with as much human tenderness as he gave his wife, his ears just as open to the feelings and words of the lot of them.
For one who smiled openly throughout his waking hours, or whistled satisfaction with chance and his allotment, my tributes are weak. There is really no way to define humility, when you have not suffered, yet somehow I know that he must have suffered, in order to display the kindness he emanated, the compassion he displayed for those hurting.
With the partnership of his friend and associate, Don Dougherty, my father started Ready Trucking. Don was his luckiest and most successful business partner, and when I speak of my father’s integrity, it extends to Don and his family, and to my brother and Andy, who carry on the Ready moniker with the same honesty and drive.
Papa is a gambler. Mom and Don and Ennis certainly are too. But Dad, in a different way, and one that probably had better odds with his mind around it than one at the tables, which he still can play, by the way, or could, as of two years ago, even with severe limitations the disease causes.
As much as I hate the LOTTO slogan, “you can’t win, if you don’t play.” He won some, and he lost some. But he certainly played. There was one or two or five years of hand me down clothes. There were five or so with trips to Europe or California, There was Japan, there were lake houses, there were, and always have been, debts. There were exchange students and friends alike, and the wallet always came out paying time. Had he not lost his mind, I think he would have figured the financial crisis crap out for everyone, for he certainly knew how to stack a balance sheet and he loves charts and graphs and still draws them. Loves numbers, too. I have inherited this gambler’s streak, and like my father, have won some and lost some. He would want it that way. He, too, believed, you learn by your mistakes. He believed that to get anything worth anything you had to give up something, that, though unaware he was a natural born negotiator.
He is a humble winner and a good loser. He is a diplomat, be it with the good ole’ boys, or with the yard boys, with the Mother in Law, or with the Law, he didn’t cheat on his taxes, but he damn well didn’t pay a cent more than he had to. I believe my father was the ideal business transaction counterpart, familiar with the word, share, and adhered throughout his life that a good deal is when everybody wins.
From the time of his parent’s divorce, my father protected and supported his mother, who was, by the way, and in all ways, worthy. She too sacrificed, skimped, and her Depression mentality was driven into all of us, including my father. She too, suffered of mind, and though driven to Christ’s way, her son would not take the same path.
In some ways, the combination of their memories, the clashing of belief yet with such similarities, their unselfish deeds, their willing ears, and their constant sirens of cheer, were in themselves I believe, masks of sort, armor from a sorrow unmentionable, but as present as a constant conversation, a dull melodic hum that quells it temporarily, a reverberating whistle of the brain. A wrapping and rewrapping of items deemed similar. A mask from depression not so different at times from the one he wears now. No, it is not all fun and games at the Read house, it only appears that way as long as he’s around to protect us from ourselves and welcome us with open arms.
There is a photograph I treasure, of Read, Mallon, Clanton, Inc., his food brokerage partnership, in which thirty or so employees are seated at a long banquet table. I covet it not for the staff, the salesmen, the clients he and my mother entertained on the weekends, or the sixty or seventy people that he helped bring food to their own tables, for that in itself is inspiring. What most strikes me and describes his character is that, while not directed to do one or the other, he was the only one in the photograph to have his hands above the table, literally, and it so symbolically defines him in his dealing with either intimate or stranger, competitor, or compatriot. His adaptability, his joy of completing mundane or arduous tasks and then jumping to the next, his ears open wide, his eyes in theirs, and finally, his mouth with ready but thought-through response, spontaneous though it would sound, and finally a master of vocal communication.
His biggest brokerage competitor, Bud Tregallis, asked me to find a piece of property similar to my father’s business headquarters back in the Eighties when I was a real estate broker. That my father had suggested our liaison in itself said something of my father’s effect on people, of the admiration he garnered through every day encouragement, or cooperation in his trade, of even-tempered, competitive spirit, reiterated throughout the business, according to Bud. “He is the most respected man in the food business”, Bud told me, as we drove along the Atlanta roads to the next potential site for his competing brokerage headquarters. “Any of our competitors would tell you the same thing.” Along the years I did confirm that sentiment.
He showed us by example that we are responsible for our actions. And it required his empathy, and a release of instinctual protective measures on which a parent is branded.
All of his children’s friends found it in him, needed it, even to the point of making his own children jealous, at times, but there was plenty inside of him for all of us. He was a font of wisdom, though produced through positive clear thinking and heavy on optimism. Ask any of his children’s friends today, to whom did they journey to ponder the hard stuff of life, when their own parents might have seemed to be at the same time so out of bounds for dispensing the same good advice. I began to see him as a man, a man like I might aspire to be, through the eyes of my friends. Father, father confessor, friend, husband, business associate, friendly stranger, boss was he. Henry Read is a man’s man. He was any man’s man.
He was for the underdog for he once had been one. When he saw someone in turmoil on a social, business or personal level (of seeing, he was expert), he was fond of saying, “Son, Wife, Daughter, Friend, Stranger—don’t take these times, or yourself, too seriously. Things are rarely as bad as they seem”, or “Most of the things you worry about today never happen.” Laughing at a cruel world, he taught me, and laughing with it, is a lucrative and necessary balm.
During one of many of my ill-conceived cash ventures, all of which, successful or otherwise, were mightily supported by my father, ‘the depressed optimist’, I had hit a veritable partnership standstill nightmare and was facing a confrontation with my partners. “What do I say? What do I do? How do I play this thing?”, I asked him.
Again, elusive, his message to me at that moment was, “Do not say or do anything. Start the meeting by asking each of them what it is that they want from you. After they’ve laid out their grievances or made their offer otherwise, and you have listened to them enthusiastically and respectfully, simply say, “thank you for being candid. This is a lot of information. I would like to think about it and I will get back to you.”
The irony of the situation was that this response predicted the absolute truth, and my father can think in no other terms, and hence, why even his competitors revered him. It was the best business advice I’d ever taken, and yet another variation did involve a slight distortion of the truth that surprised me, “just listen, and act like you’re a little stupid, a bit on the slow side, and aren’t on first examination grasping it all, you know, elevator temporarily not stopping on all floors”. At first the dishonesty of it bothered me, until I realized that this, in his way, would be simply practicing business humility. After Henry Read, never the twain shall those two words meet again, but I will try to maintain the lesson in my memory bank.
When I was fourteen, I wanted to be sixteen, and dogged my father for an entire week about my taking spring break in the Keys with my friends, and insisted through a series of infantile tantrum, fits and childish maneuvers, how mature I could be, and how I could handle the adult world (and anticipating drinking six packs of beer and other things fourteen year olds do). Finally, after much argument of the cons on his part, which were many, the pros on mine which were becoming in reality fewer, he in defeat, I imagined, threw a hundred dollar bill on the table (that was a lot of money in 1972).
“Go then. Son, I am never going to say ‘no’ to you again. You are a man now. I may give you advice, I may give admonition, I may express my opinion, but I am never going to say ‘’no’ to you again.”
I did not understand for many weeks what he meant, why he had relinquished control over my actions, why he had given in. Even after I had run out of money, wired for more, broke down in my friend’s MG on US1, gotten kicked ass first out of a Duvall St. bar for being under aged, and after another trip-mate had been arrested, I did not understand his intention of keeping this promise.
Never saying ‘no’ again, or letting me go, was the greatest gift he ever gave me. It was a blessing. He taught me that from here on I was responsible for my actions on this planet, responsible for the people I hurt, or for the people I loved, responsible for my actions, and responsible for my destiny. Though I know it was hard on him to keep his promise, that it hurt him to see me be hurt through the many careless actions a young man makes, to see me learn the hard way, but he never said ‘no’ to me again. And it taught me that my father could also be my best friend, which he still is. It taught me that he believed in me. In my recent dealings with Ryan I kept saying to him that you learn the most about life through your biggest mistakes, and that he was making some whoppers right now! It is anguish I do not wish for him to go through, yet I realize that he must. I even experience some of the anguish with him. He must take responsibility as we all must, and I was just lucky having such a good teacher. I do not think I did (or would have done) so well instructing, guiding my own.
As a child, I found his faithfulness to hard work disconcerting and fruitless, as laziness and procrastination, traits absent in my father, are abundant in his youngest son. This proud stance upon completing the mortaring of a section of creek wall, this consternation at the consistency of the sand and cement mix I prepared for him, this here’s a speck, there’s a spec, this critical inspection of my driveway sweeping skill, this going back after me to removed the specs, (we have a very, very long driveway and turnaround in back), this bubble must be exactly in the middle of the level or it throws the whole thing off catty-wompus, this peel this orange skin off into a perfect orange corkscrew and then peel the most outer layer of fruit off in one common motion swoop, this then suck out the juice entirely, spit out the seeds and devour-the-pulp mentality irritated me tremendously. What’s worse, when my advice-seeking friends came to carry me off to the life of adolescent leisure and maladjustment we all so desired, they too, were put to work on his little farm projects, here’s a spec, there’s a speck, hold this hammer, level that, want an orange, well there goes our leisure life right out the window for the weekend, but we loved it.
It was no different, when we went to the lake house. And yet, the friends kept coming, kept doing yard work for the Reads, continued under his counseling, his wing, his inextinguishable fire for life and his inexhaustible capacity for hard work, his sense of humor, and his satisfaction in such dastardly details, joy in their completion.
I am proud that he has defined gratitude for me. I am grateful for him and my mother, for good friends, and mine, one and the same, for my parents have always extended their gratitude to those their children love, too. I am grateful for a raucous family dinner, for all the times he shared his wisdom with us, for health of mind and body and his determination in spite of bad luck, and for the people I call my friends. He would have wanted me to have this gratefulness, and for that, I am grateful too.
It surprises me now when in an oft hand moment I find gratitude in culmination of an ordinary task, physical or mental, and know I did my best, for I remember then, he has given me this lesson as well.
He got almost all the way through law school at night, and when I asked him as a young adult if it bothered him that he did not finish he said he’d learned and gleaned from all of it enough to run his business, make contracts, and stay out of trouble, or at least to know what to do if he ever got into trouble. I don’t believe anything came easy to my father, except being a people person. Not like you put it on a resume, but the natural ability to make people like you simply because you want them to, you give a little extra. To make them feel at ease, because you believe in yourself, and you believe in them, whoever they are. Each of us has a special gift to the world, and he found it in others each and every time, and enabled it many times over.
And, yet, as I look back in a time before anti psychotics and accuracy of diagnosis, I am sure my father suffered part of his life with chronic depression, maybe ADD, one totally beyond his grasp, or control, and to me is amazing how he mastered optimism to a point of perfection, and spread it vicariously to his offspring, and nurtured it’s transformation to self worth, and that was his gift to all of us.
He saw himself as a country boy from Nashville. He loved his grandfather’s farm, bordered by the river I believe, more than any patch on earth. He loved and cared for his parents in a loudly quiet way. They are gone now so I pray that it is okay to say his father was not nearly as smart, but his mother, maybe in some ways, was smarter.
He would have died times over to protect her. She, for him, defines happiness. While he certainly had the self-love that bolsters successful, compassionate men and their families, his love for her created it for him. He was hers, she was his, together, alone, above children, parents, friends, or even a higher being, and it is truly forever as he defines it. She is his everything. It is one thing in his life of which he still can be certain.
I am looking at a photo of you right now that I think was your graduation photo. It’s so handsome. You are a good man. I often think about how lucky I will be if I am able to find someone as kind, generous and respectable as you. I’m a little nervous that it won’t happen. I’m not sure that they exist anymore.
I’m sorry that I haven’t spent much time with you over the last few years. I wanted to move to New York and try something different but I think about you all the time. It’s been hard for our family to watch you start to forget things and become a little slower, a little less controlled.
I can see you sitting on the white sofa in the living room right now, in front of the window. I’ll bet if Mom read this letter to you, you would sit quietly and patiently with a smile on your face… like you understand every word that is being spoken, and somehow, somewhere underneath it all, I really believe that you do.
I want to thank you for being an example for me and showing me that a person with grace and goodwill and generosity – someone who can carry huge heavy responsibility but is still able to think of others and do the right thing – is the type of person I want to be. I often get wrapped up in all the superficial elements of living in New York…or maybe it’s just living in today…and I feel like I veer off track of doing the right thing and thinking of others and their happiness. Sometimes I’m not sure that I’ll be able to pull myself back from that. I’m afraid that as I move towards my future and potential successes, I’ll completely lose sight of it.
I would really love it if, even when you’re not completely present, you could watch over me and check in sometimes. If you feel that I’ve fallen off track, please do something to make me aware and to let me know that you’re there. Keep me grounded in the qualities that you value. I’ll be looking out for you. I really want to see you again. I want to come home so that we can just sit together and hold hands.
I know you can feel the love and selflessness and understanding that Mom has for you.
I look through old photos and I see her smile and I never want that beautiful, thankful smile to go away. She attracts people – they want to be close and share their life with her. What a full, rich life you two have shared. All the family and friends, the houseguests, the togetherness.
A real love story.
Recently, I was homesick, craving Atlanta. I thought of your house, and how it felt to always be so loved – the kind of love that is firm and constant and almost overwhelming at times. It was a sense of safety and warmth that I have yet to find elsewhere. I’m so blessed to have been a recipient of that. Thank you for being the foundation.
I hope that every day you feel the love that we are all sending your way, whether we are there in person or not. I hope it surrounds you like a protective bubble so that you’re never lonely or frustrated or scared. It will always be there and it will always be strong.
I love you so much, Papa. I love and respect you so very much and I will never ever forget the man that you are.
Family-Placed Death Notice
READ, Henry, Sr. HENRY RICHARDSON READ, SR. Henry Richardson Read, Sr., passed away peacefully on Tuesday, December 8, 2009, at Hospice Atlanta, surrounded by loving family, friends and his favorite music. Henry was born on January 2, 1928, in Nashville, Tennessee to Grace Richardson Read and Charles Wickliffe Read. After high school, he joined the U.S. Marines, celebrating his 18th birthday at boot camp on Paris Island. Henry met his wife, Ruth Osborne, in the North Georgia mountains in 1947. Henry attended Georgia Tech where he was president of Chi Phi Fraternity. When he graduated in 1951, he received a commission from the U.S. Army. Henry and Ruth spent their first two years of marriage in Tokyo, Japan, where Henry served as commissary officer. They developed lifelong friendships through their weekly gatherings with the English Speaking Society at Tokyo University. When they returned to Atlanta they built their home in the Pine Hills neighborhood where they lived for more than 50 years, continually hosting international friends. In the 1950’s, Henry built a home on Lake Rabun, which he loved. Henry was president of the food brokerage company, RMCBS, and co-founded Ready Trucking Co. He served as president of the Atlanta Food Brokers Association and was a longtime member of the Atlanta Rotary Club. He is survived by Ruth, his wife of 58 years, four children: Lee Read Pilgrim, Henry Richardson Read Jr., Charles Wickliffe Read III and Mary Elizabeth (Molly) Read Woo; and five grandchildren, Aidan Read Pilgrim, Vanna Clare Pilgrim, Glenna Lee Read, Jessie Ruth Read and Max Henry Woo. His good humor, generosity and trusting way endeared Henry to his family, friends and business associates. His warmth and love of life persisted through his final days. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, December 12, 2009, at St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church, 3110 Ashford-Dunwoody Road N.E., Atlanta. In lieu of flowers, the family encourages contributions to the Alzheimer’s Association or: Hospice Atlanta, 1244 Park Vista Drive N.E., Atlanta, Ga. 30319 Arrangements by Cremation Society of the SOUTH in Marietta.
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from December 11 to December 12, 2009
The Hissing of Summer Lawns,
by Aidan Pilgrim
If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.
Summer is Lake Rabun, GA. Yesterday’s Fourth of July streamers hang loose in the muggy heat and everyone’s too busy having fun to care. My grandparents meet at Lake Rabun; She’s 16 he’s 19. He’ll leave for the Marines in one month. He’ll always recall her outfit: white peasant blouse, slightly off-the-shoulder, full skirt, big pretty smile. The beginning of Mom and Papa.
For the next 40 years it’s Mom, Papa and everyone else, wet swimsuits and high dives: jump, float, ladder, repeat; BREAK with bottles of Bud, white wine, cigarettes, popsicles. A low buzz resonates off the mountains as kids perfect their cannonball and Mrs. Smith’s infectious laugh echoes across the water. Grannies in visors and cataract sunglasses equipped with sun block and deviled eggs wave as a parade of Chris-Craft boats cruise by in their annual display of wealth and establishment and The Life. The sun sets and the guitars come out. The cards are on the table and someone wins a whole lot of quarters.
The house is there, but it’s quieter now; we’re older, spread out. But love stories exist and memories remain, along with these photos, taking me back to the beginning of us, the family, the most important thing.
your mama // Jul 7, 2009 at 5:33 pm
You are an angel. What a beautiful start. Holding my breath to read more of your musings.
2 your sister // Jul 7, 2009 at 10:22 pm This is such a treasure. Thank you.
3 your aunt // Jul 8, 2009 at 12:16 am The love slides off the screen and into our hearts. Please can we have some more.
4 mom // Jul 8, 2009 at 1:19 pm Thomas Wolfe,after his debut in New York, wrote YOU CANT GO HOME AGAIN. Thank you, Aidan, for reassuring this old soul that it’s not so. Love lasts forever.
5 Andrew Hardin // Jul 9, 2009 at 10:28 pm Sweet revelry. Brings a joyful tear. Just this afternoon heard that ole sweet song come drifting back to me. Jawja….
6 Jean // Jul 9, 2009 at 10:43 pm The Reads make me think that family isn’t the real “F” word. xxxooo Jean
Sometimes I wish I was small again, just light enough stand on your feet and let you walk me around the house while “harrumphing” and whistling a morning tune. I wish everyday was Thanksgiving just to watch you carve a turkey, the smell of stuffing, gravy, the pumpkin pie. I wish I could wake up every morning to the sunlit living room, the smell of coffee, the crunching of newspaper and your smiling face on a starch white couch.
Some days I need your advice, your calm, wise voice on the back porch telling me right from wrong, guiding but never pushing me. Some nights I’d rather pop homemade popcorn with you on the old kitchen stove versus doing anything else in the whole world. More than anything though Papa, I miss the safety and comfort of holding
I will always remember those times I’d be walking through the room or just standing around and seeing you coming or hearing your footsteps, I just knew we were about to travel. You’d plop me right onto your feet and take my hands and suddenly- HaRUMPH- we are going wherever you are going. To the hallway or the kitchen? I don’t care so long as we go together, us moving as one. My head barely reaches your waist, but right now, we are the same moving body. A few more steps and its time to stop. I protest, obviously, as I can’t imagine much of anything that could be more amusing. We compromise as I end up on your lap to hear a story. The heat from the fireplace warms us and the deep, rumbling vibrations of your voice send me straight to the almost-sleeping place of unbelievable comfort. Of course I wasn’t sleeping, I was listening, but if you’d asked me what I’d heard, all I knew to say was that it was beautiful and warm and it felt like LOVE, for the words had become feelings somehow, and I learned so much more from that than from any words I’ve ever heard.
I love you, Papa, and you mean the world to me.
Your travelling companion for eternity,
Dear Dad –
To me, you embody everything that’s good in life. Giving yourself to an adventure, to true love, aiming high and working hard and enjoying every minute of it, being open to take a chance as an entrepreneur, not just in business, but in an approach to days and years that welcomes the opportunities to build a house, lend a hand, travel abroad, be a friend, launch a venture, fight a good fight, risk criticism and the possibilities of failure, and try anyway.
You showed us how to always take the high road, and be kind and fair, even when it means losing in the short run. To care to write a letter, visit folks who are sad and lonely, to loan a few more bucks to someone you know will probably never pay it back, to dare to show up when you’re really needed.
You are a kid, a student, a soldier, a businessman, and most of all – a family man – all at once. You are a spirit who comes here and becomes somebody who is so much fun and wonderful and honest and real, that everybody who is lucky enough to walk along this path with you for a awhile, knows they’re blessed.
Every memory I have of you, every hour you’ve shared with us – is full of love, and there is nothing greater in this world, or richer in spirit than that. Best of all – from the earliest times we will ever remember, on forward to the times when we won’t remember, we’ll still know how precious this life is, and what comes after life, because your love stays with us, and our love stays with you.
Because you’ve loved me, I understand the love I have for Max. I understand Grace’s love for you, and how your grandfather must have adored you too. I see the eternity, the endless beginning, and am glad, as the light shines on this particular bend in the river of time, that I am able to look across the water and see you, and know, we may be carried by different currents as we head downstream – but we’re still in this together.
There are so many remembrances of your papa, grand husband & my St. Henry that I could relate, but that could take forever & none of us has that kind of time so I’ll just remember one of my first.
I know many of you will relate a favorite story Henry would tell at some point late in the evening on the back porch or at any time of day, but the porch stories were the best because you could barely see back in the days before the massive improvements, but what you could make out was the fact that some of the listeners, always Ruth, would slowly rest their eyes to further enhance that slow souther lilt which would always encompass that endearing sound of his loving voice. But that’s not my first memory.
When I was around 5 or 7 years old & Henry would have been between 28 & 30 years of age, on a visit to Nashville Henry and I were out in our back yard area & as usual, I was up for some action. Tho he was an exceptional athlete, Henry never liked to rest on that loral, sort of like Superman didn’t like showing off for the kids in Smallville, so he never would chase me. But man, could he swing! He would simply grasp me by my tiny wrists and start to turn in a slow circle. At the time I’m sure my possible 47 lbs seemed like nothing to him because he had no doubt tossed bags of sand weighing more than that down a gully to reroute some creek in Atlanta.
But to me this was a mighty Oak tree with wildly twisting swaying limbs from which I could never fall. Even tho I pleaded and begged “Let me go, I won’t get hurt, please let me go, I know I can fly till I fall gracefully to the soft ground below”. But for some reason he would not let me go even tho I pleaded with every fiber of my unknowing being. He would not let go because of his mighty love. He would never let go, and in some small way I pray to return the favor in remembering his strength. I’ll never let go of that memory, or my love for my mighty Oak.
(Papa’s first cousin)
Henry, Sr., has always been like a father to me. He is the gentlest giant in my little child memory. He’s always been there with a warm welcoming smile and big hug w/reassurances and true joy. He is the light in Ruth’s eyes and a true patriarchal (sp?) figure to us all. I love you silly man. Keep on smiling. Hugs and kisses, Linda
(Linda Wetstone Sherman Lloyd)
I don’t think any description of your Dad is complete without a description of the “Woodycaracken” that mythical beast that lived in the woods. Your Dad used to scare the heck out of us at the lake at night by casually warning us to be careful outside the cabin because “the WoodyCaracken might get you.”
Jenny remembered another ghost story of the fog rolling in on the lake and some lady that you could see moving just in front of the fog?? She reminded me that your dad used to do back flips off of the boat house. I think he used to do them from the upper structure of the boathouse, not from the diving board. I remember him flying through the air and screaming something like “Geronimo” .
Suzie remembered going to your dad’s business and playing in the warehouse. She particularly remembers playing with the forklift!
Alan remembered talking with your dad about business and being very impressed with the depth of his knowledge.
I still associate your dad with the mixing and pouring of concrete. He was the only guy I ever knew that had his own concrete mixer. I remember that he also thought the solution to almost any problem was to pour concrete. Any step, walkway, or floor could be made of concrete. That man could mix and pour more concrete than anyone I know. (H. Franklin Smith, Jr.)
It seems very strange that it would be so difficult to write a few words about a very dear old friend. But when I have sit down to write, the words do not come.
When I recall the wonderful days and times we had, I become overwhelmed with sadness about his present situation. Anytime I think of Henry, I immediately think of Ruth.
Winkie, Ruth, Henry and I were all so blessed and fortunate to always be in touch regardless of where we were in the world. Then when good fortune put us together again, we loved to enjoy our lives together in travel or getting together with our wonderful families.
God has blessed Winkie and me by giving us Lindsay for the fifty- five years she was with us. Now I also find myself blessed by having Henry’s friendship.
Our love, our prayers, and our sincere admiration go out to Ruth for being there when Henry needs her the most.
Henry and Ruth have a special place in our hearts that no one else can ever occupy.
Saturday, December 5th 5:57 AM
A moment ago, after hearing your ragged breathing over the baby monitor, I tiptoed into the bedroom and placed a tiny drop, a “pediatric dose” as Dr. Britton called it, of Morphine in the corner of your mouth. This was the second time that I have used the Emergency Hospice box tucked away in our refrigerator…the one revered and feared by all…and of course, even the WORD “morphine” brought tears to Mom’s eyes this afternoon when Dr. Britton suggested a small dose to help you feel better. Morphine is so associated with that dreaded end-of – life carei dea…it’s difficult to understand that we are, in fact, there…and, of course there are so many different feelings even in our small family about what that means, that it has forced me to think even more acutely about the life that we are caring for.
As I read the recent recollections of your grandchildren and my other siblings, I am drawn to the striking similarities, the character traits described by each person without collaboration or prior knowledge of each other’s written thoughts. The consistency of language across their letters expressing the warmth, security, comfort and love that simply being in your presence has given each of them is astounding, but not surprising. We have all been the lucky recipients of your generosity of love, attention, intelligence, creativity, spirit, time and advice. This unequivocal knowledge is something that we share regardless of our feelings about your current situation or our generational relationship to you and it is the greatest monument to your
legacy, your enduring and ongoing presence in our lives. It is supposed to snow this morning…within the hour…the earliest snow
In Atlanta in recorded history. You slept soundly through the night last night, A first in your own recent history.
For the past two years, you have been waking at odd times most nights. This is normal behavior for Alzheimer’s patients. You have had some flip-flops in your day and nighttime activity for a good while. We have tried help flip you back to a normal schedule with numerous meds and as many strategies, for months, but with little success.
In the beginning, your nocturnal activities included wandering from the bedroom into the living room to wake Mom from her sofa sleep in front of a late night show, to encourage her to come back to bed with you.
As your nighttime wandering and activity increased, you enjoyed washing the dishes in the kitchen… occasionally forgetting to turn off the water running in the kitchen sink, but generally harmless activity. At some point every night for more than a year, you raided the freezer for frozen treats… popsicles, Eskimo Pies, ice cream sandwiches…always passing by the front bedroom on the way back to your bedroom to share an extra one with Charlie or me and returning to your bedroom to share another with Mom who had long since passed out on top of her nightly addition…the AJC crossword.
Occasionally a package of frozen pork chops or other perishable was found later…tucked away in a hidden spot. All of this harmless activity was endearing in the way it demonstrated your charity and industry, your frugality and your creativity.
Often, you enjoyed sorting through the corkscrew drawer in the kitchen, pulling them all out and trying to retrofit them by attaching them to one another or to other kitchen utensils in new and creative ways…by the way…why in the world do we really HAVE so many of those damn things? You began to experiment with bathroom collages in the sink or commode, working with new and unusual combinations (sometimes a little dangerous) of bath and cleaning supplies, but just as often you were content to quietly sort and count your coins while sitting on the edge of your bed, far into the night.
As your cognitive and physical health has declined, this nighttime activity has become more and more dangerous for you. You are now unable to make it from the bed to the bathroom or kitchen without stumbling or grasping for something…even falling, but you continue to try, to try to take care of yourself and others as you have always done. In the past week it has become clear that you cannot walk without dramatic assistance even for a tiny distance. Your care has become more than a matter of oversight; it has become a task requiring 24 hour vigilance. So, we are in the midst of many decisions about how best to care for you. Do we hire a professional to stay awake each night while we sleep? Do we continue to aggressively give you regular medicines, monitor blood sugars, administer heart medication? Which meds are for comfort, which will prolong life? What are you able to eat and how do we feed you? What tools do we need to have in order to properly care for you and for what end?
Last night was the first night that you have slept through the night without waking for many months. This was after some dramatic changes in your medication and some bold discussions with Hospice and family members this afternoon about your condition, your care, our goals, our concerns, our readiness to accept your passing and our physical and emotional strength.
Yes, we are all worn out…worn with worry, worry that you are not comfortable, worry that we will lose Mom through her endless effort to care for you, worry that we are not giving you the most appropriate care, worried that we don’t know or even agree on what appropriate care for you is at this time. And yes, it is difficult to witness your decline and to experience the continual chaos that Alzheimer’s has introduced in our lives. But, one of the odd things is that I doubt if any of us worries about forgetting the person you were in “real life.” Your instruction and impact on our lives for has been so huge that it is impossible not to consider how rich and full our lives are because of your character and companionship. You continue to exhibit gentle temperament, warmth, joy, and spirit even in the midst of tremendous cognitive and physical changes.
You still chirp “thank you” when you receive help. You continue to join us and to sing along with the traditional family blessing over meals, as corny as it used to seem to me, particularly knowing your non-religious stance. You snuggle in bed with Mom every morning and drape your arm over her shoulder “teenage-style” on the sofa in the evening. You chuckle along with Molly when you hear her deliver a good story or joke. You brighten beyond belief when Charlie enters the room or Henry engages you in a “business” discussion. You greet Max and pat his back when he gets home from school each day. You giggle with delight when your beautiful granddaughters arrive. You are so full of warmth, grace, character, good will, and agape that it is clear that there is some constant, some essential “Henry”, that is surviving this terrible, terrible disease.
On the other hand, the loss of your communication ability, one of your most aggravating and at the same time, endearing properties in “real life” and the loss of your thinking ability, the ability to offer enlightenment, deliver a story, devise a plan, develop a project, provide support…all of those tremendous gifts of the past are still with us, but only because they were previously given regularly and without hesitation.
Did we thank you? Did we recognize them when you could receive our gratefulness, our praise? I hope so, and I hope that you somehow sense that the love and energy we are offering to you in this time is a reflection of the gift of your love, your life and your lessons. I am grateful that you are not aware of our level of concern or care at this time because I know that you would never have tolerated the situation.
I can hear you back in the ‘60’s talking about the Hemlock Society…What would you do if…was it Communism or nuclear war? …and, I can extrapolate to this current situation enough to know that you would not have wanted to be in this physical or mental state if you could have chosen not to. But you didn’t really have that choice. This disease is so insipid, so sneaky, so ugly…that it takes that ability to “choose for oneself” away (an important lesson to those of us thinking about advanced directives). No. There is nothing beautiful about Alzheimer’s. NO sweetness, no redemption, no opportunity to reflect on one’s life as the end of it nears.
It is a thankless, heartbreaking disease and even though I would do anything to care for you in this condition, I know that you would have abhorred the necessity for that care.
We agreed yesterday to take advantage of a Hospice Respite service…a 4 night/5 day “rest” from caring for you ourselves…perhaps more out of uncertainty about HOW we are caring from you, than from the fatigue of caring for you. I know that you would understand this and wish it for us, but it is hard to let you leave this home even briefly, when what we really want for you is for you to be here when you are able to finally leave us. So, soon you’ll be leaving us for a time and resting while we also rest and reflect, rejuvenate and reassess what we need to do in order to best care for you.
My greatest wish for you is for you is for you to be able to leave on your final departure with dignity and comfort, to know with certainty that you are loved and to be surrounded by those who love you when that happens.
Did I say thank you? Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to learn and grow, to make mistakes and celebrate success, to watch and wait, to hope and grieve in your presence and care. You are our fearless and intelligent captain and the course you have chartered with your gift will pulse through the waters or our lives… through new and ever-changing horizons, waters smooth and turbulent. Thank you the bountiful gift of your life, your love and your lasting lessons in life.
A good friend-no a great friend! “henwee’s” best decision- marrying “Ruthie” Can’t remember year that Henry ran us, Georgia XO’s out of the Tech XO house at 3 AM. Henry as bridge partner for years bidding 2 hearts with only 2 hearts and 6 count, if that! Somehow we won.
Plenty of stories but I like this one: Building construction ramp at Lake Raburn on road side bank with Henry and Dave Ebersole. First Attept- dry wood-no slide. Second Attemp- oil the wood- no progress. (Henry goes to bottom of slide where he athletically pushes the barge out of the way). Third Attempt- oil left on sprinkled with water- pallet of concrete blocks went flying down out of control while, Henry is about to be murdered .the rope is burning through our gloves and skin. Henry yells up “It got to the bottom” Sad part is that they are still there! Good news is that there was enough beer to cover the pain of rope burns. Last story- Sue called Molly to tell her to come to Miami to cover Hurricane Andrew. She came right down to find us in shock so she called Ruth and Henry to come help us and they did. Henry asked what I was doing to put destroyed porch back. I could not think while in shock so Henry got the project topped off before they left and I was able to continue. Everyone needs friends like this!
I love him and miss him!
Thank all of you for your contributions to our tribute to Papa. This is our first printing, and I am sure, as time goes on, we’ll be adding the rest of this wonderful story, so I’ll be looking out for your emails, photos and rememberances.
Charlie Read email@example.com 954-828-1662
From my mother, Ruth
Halloween Eve evokes so many emotions, so many memories. The “Halloween Festival was yesterday. I didn’t go. Like so many things now : “Been there, Done That”
Auntie’s Birthday – October 31 – is one of the strongest tugs: All the halloween treasures: The porcelain witches and ghosts, the three-prong lamp that I got at a flea market in London, that I put the starched ghosts on top for halloween – the Jackolantern rug that we hang on the door, the crocheted round cloth that Tania/s mother in Bulgaria made: I put it on the round table in front of the fireplace, with a cloth underneath, and all the little witches and pumpkin candles on top. When the children come in, we have the basket of treats on the table, and, it used to be, all the ladies would be here: Auntie (birthday}, Nana, Grace, Millie, Mary massey., Up until the last year, Henry was still sitting by the fireplace, smiling at the kids, until a real scary one came in, and I would see his face change, and I would go and hug him till they left. Of course, by then all the ladies were gone, just their ghosts or spirits are always with me on Halloween . Mary Massey is still here, and sometimes Mary Beasley, and some of the neighborhood old timers, who remember when. And some second or third generations come by .
The “children” – back 40, 50 years ago, were our own, parading for the “grandmas” before going out in this great neighborhood that celebrated Halloween with such love and caring. At first, 50 years ago – we had the party at the dead end of Crane Road, where the Karelson’s, Mark, Judy, Paul and Gloria were at the end, and we had hot dogs and scary ghosts and fortune-tellers and a fabulous cake walk. Auntie was the fortune teller for many years, she was wonderful. She had these great plastic earrings that hung down, little witch faces, I think, and a crystal ball and all the kids lined up in front of the tent, over and over, as she told them the most wonderful things that were in their futures. it was the highlight of the night.
Yes, we had it after dark then, the neighborhood was small and caring, the mamas and daddies were involved with scouts, campfire girls, Great Books at RL Hope, where all the children went, the older kids, all at North Fulton, helped with the hot dogs and dressed as ghosts. Was it really as wonderful as I remember it?
Now, the festival is huge, at the pool, in the afternoon, preserving the wonderful cakewalk that we had from the beginning, with all the children parading in a circle around the cakes, with the music playing. And when the music stops, whoever is standing in the numbered spot that is drawn – selects the cake of his choice.
Molly ran the cake walk for a decade, when max was an eager participant. Often she had one of the german students to put on a top had and run the cake walk. Was it because she remembered that wide-eyed little girl she was, watching Papa carve the pumpkins every year, parading in the cake walk, , all the loving, caring spooks that made it all so much fun? Even you girls: , pitched in in some your teens, helping with the cakewalk, face painting, musical chairs, carrying on the spirit of your mama and daddy’s memories.
In those latter years, I would help gather the old-witch grandmas that had been around in the beginning to help out , years, serving coffee and cider, collecting money for tickets (yes, now it’s pay as you play, for the upkeep and legal battles to preserve this wonderful neighborhood). Lee would help out some years, she was always a welcome sight for all the grandmas,who remembered her 30, 40, 50 years ago as a participant, now looking up to her for direction, always.
Now, a new group of mamas, with new ideas, many of them much more efficient and professional about it, but still with the good heart and love that has pervaded all these years, have taken the helm. It is heart-warming to see a tradition continue through generations in this wonderful Pine Hills neighborhood.,